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Steel identification

Joe Michaels

Diamond
Joined
Apr 3, 2004
Location
Shandaken, NY, USA
I spent some time many years ago on jobs in the backwaters of South America. Ever since then, I have been in the habit of using using scrapped auto & truck parts for stock for various jobs. I have not spark-tested the tie rod steel to get some idea of alloying elements. It is fairly hard (file test), yet machines quite well. Whatever steel is used for tie rods and drag links is forgeable, aside from being machineable. I've made quite a few parts and odds-n-ends of tooling from the tie rods and drag links. I like using the tie rods and drag links as they do not require any annealing prior to my cutting and machining parts from them.

The other steel I use a good bit of is salvaged from truck rear axle shafts. These are often too hard to be saw cut or machined, so I anneal them. I've not tried re-heat treating the axle steel as it holds up well for what parts and tooling I make from it. I am planning to make some tooling from the axle steel requiring forging and will try oil-quenching and drawing to maybe a bluish temper color.

I've been using spring leaves for forged projects like wrenches and knives. The spring steel is likely a 5160, and oil hardens nicely. I have no clue as to the axle or tie rod steels, and wonder if anyone has some knowledge as to what type steels the axles and tie rods might be made of. Different chips when machining, so I am thinking different steels. Maybe I've watched too many youtubes of Pakistani and Vietnamese mechanics and machinists, and with my past experience in South America, it's instinctive on my part to grab likely scrap (aka "mystery metal") as material for non-critical jobs. I suppose I could do the simple test we learned in metallurgy lab at Brooklyn Technical HS: saw cut partway thru a piece of round mystery steel bar, making the cuts about 1/2-3/4" apart, kind of like pre-cutting an Italian or French bread. Heat the bar to an orange-red heat and water quench just above the first saw cut, and as the bar cools, immerse more of it in the quench. When the bar is fully cooled, put it in a vise and using a hammer, try to snap off the first segment at the saw cut. The appearance of the fracture and a file test for hardness is checked at each saw cut, as is the brittleness or lack of it when hammer testing. Of course, if the specimen picks up a quench crack at the first saw cut, the steel is most likely oil hardening. We did this test on various bars of mystery metal when I was a HS student, and did Rockwell hardness tests on the saw-cut ends of each segment. We also did the spark tests and had to write down what elements we thought were alloyed into the steel specimens. Our teacher had the actual steel data on the specimen bars, and it was up to us to determine as best we could what the 'mystery metal' was. I'm kind of lazy in my old age, so not about to go thru the whole 9 yards of what we did way back when in HS metallurgy lab, nor do I have a Rockwell hardness tester. A clue from some members who have knowledge as to typical steels used for these automotive parts would be appreciated.
 

Zolata

Plastic
Joined
Jul 12, 2022
I wish I had the knowledge to answer your question. I, like you, pick up any scrap I think is useable. I picked up a steering cylinder rod from a backhoe thinking I had a great piece of 1.25" stock. Kept it several years and when I chucked it up in the lathe it was the worst metal I have ever turned. Came off like sand. On the other hand, I would cut the rod off of struts and shock absorbers. Never had bad stuff from those and make a lot of stuff from them. Glad to learn about axles .
 
Joined
Feb 4, 2004
Location
Metuchen, NJ, USA
I should have bookmarked the table of "likely steel type vs. scrap source" which I saw on one of the black smithing websites ! It had numbers for things like rotary lawnmower blades, various vehicle parts, etc.
* I cannot find it now. *

Perhaps a forum member with superior searching skills ( "Google Fu" ) can find it.
 

john.k

Diamond
Joined
Dec 21, 2012
Location
Brisbane Qld Australia
One point about truck axle steel......before an axle fails,it generally develops dozens of tiny cracks running lengthwise .........so,IMHO,if you are going to use an axle ,try to find a new one...........Rockwell used to specify the steel in their axles,and basically it was 1045 up to 4 ton size ,over that 4140 .
 

Salem Straub

Cast Iron
Joined
May 22, 2012
Location
WA, USA
The conventional wisdom (e.g., leaf springs are 5160, files are W1 or W2 or 1095, saw blades are L6) that existed in the smithing world previously is pretty inaccurate these days. Alloys and parts are generally made offshore, generally in Asia now. Things that were previously heat treated and made from appropriate alloys, may be case hardened mild steel, such as the cheaper files...
Springs could be 9260, which is more common from china... not that it's bad, it just heat treats a bit different than 5160. Or they could be 1065 or whatever the chinese designation for that is. I have 200 lbs of new railroad spring clips in bags, and since I'd gotten so much of the same parts all stamped the same together new, I had them analyzed by a lab. They were basically 1065.
That said, any 60 point carbon steel, within reason, would respond decently to a general spring steel quench and temper regimen, but you may be leaving performance on the table if it's going to be a sword or something. Of course it wouldn't matter as much for a screwdriver or cold chisel etc.
Ideally, if you're going to make an item out of mystery steel and want the best results, you would make a couple semi-finished pieces and heat treat and test one hard to your best guess, then adjust your HT if necessary for the keeper piece.
This is why as a professional knifemaker it's much more economical and predictable to use bought steel of known alloy. I don't think there's anything wrong with using mystery steel per se, though, with some caveats.
 

john.k

Diamond
Joined
Dec 21, 2012
Location
Brisbane Qld Australia
Question.....what are the picks for hydraulic hammers made of ?......the hydraulic hammers used on excavators to break concrete and rock?........Ive saved a couple of biggies up to 8" dia ,and my idea was to get one cut lengthwise for an anvil ..........so far no one will do the cut..............one guy said to cut 8",he would need a TORP of oxy.,as he uses 10 cylinders ganged together for 4" plate.
 

Jim Christie

Titanium
Joined
Mar 14, 2007
Location
L'Orignal, Ontario Canada
I have a book that belonged to my father that I would guess dates to the early to mid 1950s published for Atlas Steel from Welland Ontario .
It has a lot of technical data on the various steels they made and a chart showing the approximate equivalent to the various SAE number.
It also has a few pages listing the items including automotive parts and which of their products are recommended for them .
I can't find the book on the internet archive or the Hathi Trust Library site although this similar one covers only tool steels as far as I can tell from a quick look
I have attached some pictures of some pages from my father's book in case they might be helpful .
As for axles they recommend SPS245 or Ultamo roughly equivalent to SAE4140 and SAE4340
Jim
P.S. I did see a chart somewhere on the internet a while ago with a comparison of various older named steels from a number of different companies and their SAE equivalent but can't seem to turn it up now.
 

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4GSR

Diamond
Joined
Jan 25, 2005
Location
Victoria, Texas, USA
Question.....what are the picks for hydraulic hammers made of ?......the hydraulic hammers used on excavators to break concrete and rock?........Ive saved a couple of biggies up to 8" dia ,and my idea was to get one cut lengthwise for an anvil ..........so far no one will do the cut..............one guy said to cut 8",he would need a TORP of oxy.,as he uses 10 cylinders ganged together for 4" plate.
A lot of 6150 and possibly S-2 tool steel are used for percussion tools.
 

Joe Michaels

Diamond
Joined
Apr 3, 2004
Location
Shandaken, NY, USA
I appreciate hearing from the members as to what the likely steels used for automotive axles, springs and tie rods might be. I have forged a few knives from spring leaf material, oil quenching in canola oil (used oil from frying a Thanksgiving turkey). One thing I did find with used/broken spring leaves is numerous shallow transverse cracks. If I am working with a piece of used spring leaf material, I take some meat off the surfaces with an angle grinder or by annealing and then face milling.

I've been fortunate in finding axle shafts that were not broken. Still no idea of what steel the axles (mostly from pickup trucks built in the 1970s-90's) would be.

I've also been watching the Pakistani youtubes of various manufacturing operations. There are a few youtubes of Pakistani shops forging and machining cranksahfts for ammonia compressors. The forge shop starts by burning off chunks of what looks like the crankshaft of a large marine diesel engine. With the busy ship breaking yards in that part of the world, getting chunks of a ship's main engine's crankshaft is easily done. The forge shop has a steam hammer, with the mainframe fabricated from steel plate using welding. The forge shop boiler, seen in the background, appears to be salvaged from a steam locomotive. The forging furnaces are fired on waste oil, and the crew handles the red hot chunk of steel with hand chainfalls and tongs and plenty of combined muscle. The chunks of crankshaft are forged into shape for the ammonia compressor crankshafts. Open die forging, and in one youtube, the forged blank is transported to the machine shop on a cart drawn by a small donkey.

At the machine shop, the machinists use old plain bearing cone-head lathes. They use firm joint calipers to find centers on the work, use chalk or whitewash as their layout fluid, and use firm joint calipers and a steel rule to layout and check dimensions. The setups include a counterweight, and some offset center fixturing. Cutting tools look to be shop made- chunks of carbide brazed to any likely piece of steel for a shank. The shop is at least knee deep in chips, and the machinists in sandals walk on the heaps of steel chips without fear of cutting their feet. A shaper is used to finish the sides of the crank webs. Another neat trick these guys do is to use a portable electric drill, adapted so the tailstock center is lined up with the centerline of the drill chuck to put centers in the ends of the work. The drill looks like a copy of an English "Wolf" drill.

I hand it to the Pakistanis: by using marine diesel crankshaft steel, they picked the right steel to make ammonia compressor crankshafts from. They burn off a chunk of the marine engine crankshaft using a 'track torch', and into the forge shop furnace it goes. These guys seem to know what size chunk of steel to burn off from the big marine engine crankshaft to make billets for forging the ammonia compressor crankshafts. The Pakistanis are ahead of the curve in terms of recycling: they not only use the scrapped ship's engine crankshafts, but also chunks of the ship's hull plating to make the center web plates for truck wheel rims, and for motorcycle rear sprockets. The turnings or chips from these machine shops is taken to nearby foundries and charged into the furnaces. Some of the foundries use induction melting furnaces and charge in a mix of broken iron castings, scrap from metal stamping plants, and loads of steel turnings or chips. Other foundries use the cupola furnaces and charge in all kinds of junked cast iron parts as well as steel chips from the machine shops. In shops rolling sheet steel or rebar, the furnaces for heating the steel (chunks of scrapped railroad rail) are fired on chunks of wood. Not cordwood as we'd know it, but chunks of stumps, limbs, and any other hardwood. Chances are the hardwood that could be milled into lumber went that way, and only the stuff like crotches, stumps and twisted or crooked portions of the trees wind up as fuel for the furnaces. The more common fuel for forge shop furnaces seems to be waste oil, gravity fed to a simple burner.

If the Pakistani shops pay attention to metallurgy, it is probably only determined by what the scrap they start with was originally used for and more often: can they cut or forge the job from that hunk of scrap. Old rail, a good high carbon steel, is re-rolled into sheet steel for things like harrow discs and shovels and other tools. I have no idea what type steel is used for ship's anchor chain, but in one Pakistani youtube, chunks of ship's anchor chain are forged into sledge hammer heads. These are water-quenched to harden the faces. The forge shops making the sledge hammer heads use the "Massey" type self contained hammers. The hammer smiths are good and quick at open-die forging sledge heads. On this same tack, I've noticed in some of the Pakistani youtubes, their sledge hammer heads have mushroomed striking faces. This has me thinking the steel used for ship's anchor chains may not have all that much carbon.
 

Ries

Diamond
Joined
Mar 15, 2004
Location
Edison Washington USA
Question.....what are the picks for hydraulic hammers made of ?......the hydraulic hammers used on excavators to break concrete and rock?........Ive saved a couple of biggies up to 8" dia ,and my idea was to get one cut lengthwise for an anvil ..........so far no one will do the cut..............one guy said to cut 8",he would need a TORP of oxy.,as he uses 10 cylinders ganged together for 4" plate.
I had a friend, Grant, sadly now deceased, who owned a shop called Apex, and made literally a million hammer bits for breaking up concrete. It was an industrial forging shop, and he really knew his stuff.
Here is what he told blacksmiths about the steel content, some years ago:

Grant Sarver-

Having been a manufacturer of paving breaker bits, I can tell you that no one uses S-7 or any real tool steel ( at least not in 1", 1-1/8, 1-1/4). I've had just about every one spectrographed. B&L is a modified 1045, Vulcan used to use 1078 but now uses 15B30, Pioneer/DelSteel is 1078 or 9260 for their "alloy" bits. Apex (my old brand) are 8630. These things sell new (at full discount) for about what tool steel costs per pound. Everybody is looking for the cheapest thing that will do the job. People expect these bits to be really great stuff, perception trumps reality every time.

BTW: "Paving breaker" bits are solid, "jackhammer" bits have a hole down the center.*
 

dalmatiangirl61

Diamond
Joined
Jan 31, 2011
Location
BFE Nevada/San Marcos Tx
I recently came across some high quality mystery steel, a little bit of research on the mfr leads me to believe its SS2324 or SS2142, with SS standing for Swedish Steel. After annealing it was still very hard and required carbide for turning, but it came out with a mirror finish. Good stuff, hope I can find some more!

Edit: Source was a hydraulic ram from a blade actuator from a wind turbine, look for the ones made in Sveeden.
 








 
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